No one knows ALL the words, not editors, not professors of English, not writers. But I do pride myself on having a wide vocabulary, as befits an editor and wide reader with an honours degree in English language and literature.
As an aside, English vocabulary, with its pairs of words for so many things (bloom/flower, beef/cow, food/comestibles) makes learning other languages form the same broad family much easier. Learning Dutch, German or Icelandic? Reach for those Germanic terms to help find pairs of friends. Learning Spanish, as I am at the moment, and find Yo como means “I eat”? Aha – comestibles!
All this is working towards saying that I don’t hugely often encounter a word I don’t know, aside from technical terms I come across in texts I’m editing. When I meet on in my everyday reading, I’ve been noting it down, looking it up (of course) and then putting it aside to share.
On holiday recently, I was reading Alan Hollinghurst’s rather excellent “The Sparsholt Affair” (my review of it on my book review blog is here), which is a work of literary fiction about people studying and knowing about things, but is in the main clearly written without jargon, and I came across the following passage (the narrator is visiting the “facilities” at the back of an Oxford pub):
the foul-smelling gutter at the back, with its one light bulb and conspectus of venerable graffiti.
… and obviously the word I didn’t know there was “conspectus”.
So, what is a conspectus? Well, actually it’s an overview or summary of a topic, an overall view, an outline or a synopsis so I’m not sure that he had completely and exactly the right word here. What could he have meant? Palimpsest (layers of text, etc., overwritten again and again) seems a good bet. I’d have queried it were I his editor.
But anyway, I learned a new word and now maybe you have, too.
(Sources: OED Concise, Merriam-Webster online, Collins)